Monday, January 30, 2012

grace poured down {Remembering December: Part 4}

For the month of December, I counted doggedly to 1000, scribbling blue-inked gifts lists across fields of white paper, pounding new habit-nails on top of complaints, criticism and stress…. Hungering for joy.  In those moments, joy came slow, if it came at all.  I didn’t feel much of anything.  
But now, warm January sun streaming through the window, paging back through lists of hundreds and hundreds of graces - all poured down in just one month - the joy begins to well, deep and strong.  
All is grace.  I lived it, counted it, for 31 days straight, over 30 gifts every day (and for each one written, so many more slid past unnoticed).  
I review the gifts of December, and I remember… 

December 26

834. Cleaning out the toy cupboard 
835. Presents to give away
836. Poor people to give to
837. Ben carrying Arli’s present all the way there by himself, bouncing the bag along the ground, refusing to let me take it

838. Boys learning the joy of giving
839. Three boys, with no common language except joy and boyhood, playing wild in a threadbare living room
840. The ability to buy this family a ton of coal
841. That Jesus loves them enough to die for them

855. Having the perfect Christmas present for a friend: bamboo knitting needles
856. Her genuine pleasure
857. Being able to say God arranged it (I bought them in August)
858. The hope that their curiosity in God will grow
859. She and her husband pairing up with my boys to “box”
860. Fits of laughter all around

861. The stars on the way home862. Explaining to William how God knows each star by name, 
and William saying, “Does He just call them ‘stars’?” 
 “No, each one has a name.” 
 “What are they?” 
 “I don’t know - why don’t you ask God?” 
 “God, what are the names of the stars?”
863. The faith of a child

December 27

886. Twenty packages of cookies assembled for the neighbors
887. Planning ahead
888. Thirteen homes visited
889. Thirteen presents given

892. Thirteen conversations
893. Two or three interested parties
894. The Holy Spirit’s discernment
895. Words to explain things in this language
896. Open homes
897. This friendly, hospitable culture
898. The hope of glory

899. Discovering that our new street has four other ethnicities besides ours
890. James serving lunch when I got back 

909. The way Ben cuddles into me when I read to him before naptime
910. Led to open the word during rest time
911. The joy and challenge of personal goal setting
912. The way my “Year of Letting Go” (more on this later) is overlapping and dovetailing with my “Year of Here” 

December 29

933. Grace for a new day
934. Avalon’s “How Great Thou Art”
935. Climbing out of the pit
936. That Your lovingkindness never ceases
937. And Your mercies are new every morning
938. Building new habits, one nail at a time 939. Hope
940. Being in the 900’s at the end of this year
941. Being blind before and now SEEING
942. Fighting crankiness with thanks 

972. Water for showers and laundry and dishes
973. When I turned Avalon up loud, Will exclaiming, “Let’s get all the instruments! PRAISE GOD!”
974. How gospel music can make it fun to wash the dishes
975. Shaving my legs in stages to get ready for our holiday at the beach in two weeks -- the bigger the smooth patch, the closer we are to having a break! 

December 31

991. Breakfast in bed! Banana pancakes and coffee!
992. 6 happy years of marriage 993. My husband gifting me time for a lovely walk by myself
994. Poetry forming
995. Glory all around: mountains, fields and sky

998. How blessed we truly are
999. My husband’s gifts to me: poetry, a promise of dates to plan, a promise of music to make

1000. The privilege of living in this place, with these people
1001. Salmon for New Year’s dinner!
1002. Fireworks in our backyard!
1003. Mulled white wine with rosemary, lemon and honey
1004. A fire in our fireplace
1005. Counting past one thousand gifts in one month, and knowing they will just keep on coming -- and coming -- forever

a new way of seeing
like a bird on a wire
awareness of grace
turns commonplace
into glory and fire
like wood to a tree
like waves to the sea
let thanks become
the fiber of me

Thursday, January 26, 2012

the antidote for perfectionism

{To read the previous post in this series, click here...}
Last year, with Ann, was my Year of Here, and I did live more fully in the moment than I ever have.  But still there were these unreasonable explosions, this discontent, this striving - even striving to list 1000 gifts in December before the New Year, hoping that filling this task would bring me joy.  
It’s this drive to be perfect, this striving and pressure, that I hate in myself -  especially what it does to me and others.  But I don’t know how to get rid of it.  

One afternoon a few weeks ago, thinking forward into 2012, I reluctantly wrote these words in my journal:
Besetting sins:  
It is a sin, after all, not just a nice way of saying I’m devoted to excellence.  Perfectionism is a sin because it leads to other sins - blame-shifting, defensiveness, stress-imposing, anger, resentment, pride.  
And the root of this sin of mine? 
The idol of feeling competent and perfect.  
Instead of Christ, that is what my self-worth and sense of well-being is truly wrapped around.  As soon as I feel like I’m failing in any way, as soon as my competence is threatened, I explode.  (A sure symptom of idolatry.)

Almost the moment I realized this, I felt the Holy Spirit give me a name for this new year: 
The Year of Letting Go.
(The Year of Open Hands)
(The Year of Gentle Weaving)
(The Year of Surrendered Living)
(The Year of Trusting)
The year of opening my hands.  Of letting go of stress.  Of releasing expectations on myself and others.  Scary.  It totally threatens my idolatrous need to feel competent and in control.  

But then, thoughts and images started moving through my mind, hope-filled Spirit-thoughts.  A glimmer of light.   
If you let go, Carolyn, the pressure is off and you could ask nicely without demanding.  (Hmmm... my husband and I have had lots of conversations about this one… maybe this is the key?)
If you let go, the pressure is off and you could reach freely for goals without straining or pushing.  (More likely to reach them, and the process would be a whole lot healthier and more joyful...)
If you let go, you could relax and let Me lead you into what to do next(The whole weaving thing again.)
If you let go, you could choose to do one thing at a time and focus on doing it well, rather than forcing yourself to finish everything on your list and stressing yourself out (and everyone else).
Ok, Lord.  You’re convincing me.  The Year of Letting Go.  That still sounds, and feels... scary.

Really?  asks the still small Voice in my heart.  What exactly are you afraid of?
Um... Truthfully?  -wince-  I’m afraid that if I let go, You-won’t-come-through-for-me, and I’ll-have-an-unfulfilled-year-with-unmet-expectations.  (Whew! I can’t believe I admitted that!)
Hmm.  So the bottom line is… trust.  Isn’t it.  You. don’t. trust. that I will be all I say I Am.  You don’t trust that My plan is More Perfect than yours.
Wow.  -silence-   
Really?  I really don't trust You, Lord?  After all I’ve seen You do in my life?   That’s pretty ridiculous.  But, well, yeah… when you put it like that, I guess I don’t.  I really am hanging on to my plan, my goals, my expectations for myself, tighter than I’m hanging on to you.  
I thought you were letting go of your expectations.
Well, yes, but… how?  I desperately scribble questions across the page.  Aren’t expectations natural?  And needed?  How can I help having expectations?  How do I let go of my expectations?  And if I let go of them, how do I move forward without goals and the pressure to meet them?  How do I grow?  

Stop.  Tell Me some good, reasonable, macro-expectations you can have for 2012.  Better yet, let Me tell you.

(And here’s where my jaw started dropping, and the joy started welling deep…)
That God will do God-sized things.
That God will grow me, my husband and my children in the specific ways He wants to, for our good and His glory.
That God will bring His Kingdom on this earth, through me, our marriage, our family, and our ministry.
That God will show His passionate love for me daily in beautiful, unexpected ways.
That my husband will stay utterly faithful to loving me, like the God he loves so deeply and completely.
That my God will supply all my needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
That peace will be mine, which passes understanding.
Wow.  I started to breathe faster, deeper.  
If I can relax into those expectations, and trust that they will be met, because of Who God is, not because of who I am or what I can do… 
and if I can let go of everything else and trust the Weaver to tell me what threads to weave… 
what a year this will be!  
So what’s the antidote for perfectionism?  


Letting go of expectations.

And expecting God to be God.

* * * 

Resonating yet?

What is one "good, reasonable" God-founded macro-expectation you can have for 2012?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Christmas graces {Remembering December: Part 3}

While I counted my December gifts, racing to 1000 in the last month of 2011, each new habit-forming nail pounded hard.  

I glimpsed joy now and then, but my heart wasn’t flooded.  
Now, looking back, reading through the poetry of grace after grace, joy wells deep and full...

624. Ginger cookies in process
625. Andrea Bocelli
626. Enchiladas for supper

656. Any internet at all
657. Thanks-filled heart buoyant, lifting
658. The fact of cookie dough
659. Ben learning how to pretend, exaggerated: “Shh! QUAH-yet, Mama! Dey LI-yun SEE-ping!” (the lion’s sleeping)
670. Brownies cooling on the counter

661. The hum of our happy furnace

686. Our Advent Calendar - that today (Dec 19) is the camel

692. Candles when the power goes out
693. The flood of light when the power comes back on

776. Leaving the dishes for later
777. Nice things to do tonight: mull wine, ice our Christmas cake

778. Presents to wrap
779. Stockings to hang
780. Anticipation

798. Christmas morning!

800. Jesus born as a little baby, for our sins
801. My red Christmas sweatpants from my Mom
802. Bacon and kiwifruit for breakfast!
803. Running water most of the time (we just ran out)

815. James made stuffing!
816. The smell of chickens roasting
817. Ham for lunch! A once a year treat!

818. The Christ candle lit and burning brightly

820. Spinach dip
821. Mulled wine
822. Lovely guests finally here
823. Wonderful meal my husband prepared! (roasted chicken with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and baked pumpkin)
824. All I had to do was peel potatoes, lay out pumpkin and stir gravy!

825. Wonderful time of fellowship, reading the Word and praying
826. Hearts connecting 

827. Boys playing wild and happy
828. Genuine compliments on my home-making from my sister here
829. Feeling full in every way

831. Boys sleeping hard
832. Surfaces re-emerging
833. A long happy day coming to a peaceful close

Christmas grace.  Delicious.  Sweet.  
{Best of all, tomorrow continues CHRIST-mas grace towards you, and me, and all!}

Friday, January 20, 2012

of the malady called perfectionism

A while ago, before the New Year, I had a conversation with my husband.  It went something like this:
Husband, casually: “Do we have any more butter?”
Me (defensively, feeling guilty for not planning ahead): “I don’t know, look in the freezer.”
Husband: “I don’t see any…”
Me, explosively: “Why is it always up to me to plan the grocery lists and keep track of everything we have and don’t have?  I’m sorry we don’t have any butter!  It’s my fault, it’s always my fault…” 
Husband, surprised: “Don’t get mad at me, I’m not the one who buys the groceries…”
Me, inwardly seething: “Well, then maybe it’s time we started sharing the responsibility, huh?”  And the conversation degenerates from there.  
Defensiveness, blame-shifting, requiring those around me to validate and share my stress or else… All these are symptoms of a soul-disease I have, called perfectionism.  
When I fail, even in the smallest way, I get intensely frustrated with myself for not being perfect.

Eventually, as usual, I apologized contritely to my husband for flipping out, but this time he didn’t let me get away with just an apology.   
“I hope one of your New Year’s resolutions is to do something about this,” he said firmly.  “You really need to get a handle on your perfectionism.”  
Ugh.  That word.  It rolled around hollow in my mind for the next few days: “You really need something about this….”  I rebel.  My perfectionism hates the fact that “perfectionistic” describes me!  It sounds so negative, so controlling, so anal retentive.  Couldn’t “perfectionistic” just mean I strive for excellence?  I’m good at details, I like to finish what I start?  I like to fold my towels exactly in thirds to fit the linen cabinet?  
Could perfectionism really be a sin?  
Well, perfectionism by itself might not be sin, but if it’s allowed to rule me, it makes life miserable for me, and everyone else around me.  And this is why I am so thankful for this man I married: lovingly but firmly, he confronts me with my sin, and calls it sin.  (Exploding at my loved ones over tiny details is sin, pure and simple.)  Gently but strongly, he suggests that I deal with it.  

So, a few days later, I decide to start.  After tucking the boys in for their naps, I flop across my bed on my stomach with my journal and a pen.  I’m going to “deal with my perfectionism”.  First, I skirt the issue by writing down all my other goals for 2012, including what to do about exercising regularly, what Scripture to memorize this year (no answer for that one yet), how to foster gratefulness in my life, how to make space for writing and music, etc… 
But finally, I’m down to it.  I write:
Besetting sins:  
leading to Blaming & Defensiveness when I feel like I haven’t done something perfectly…
resulting in self-imposed STRESS that I succumb to, flip out under, and impose on others.
-expecting others to be perfect too, and resenting it when they’re not, or taking out my anger amd exasperation on them
This is all related to PRIDE in my own abilities.
My IDOL is: that my self-worth is wrapped up in my COMPETENCE.
There.  It’s out.  I wrote it all down on the page.  Not just the sin, but a whole long list of the ugly resulting sins: blame-shifting, defensiveness, imposing stress on others, pride, idolatry.  How my sin makes life miserable for others.  
And then, the root of the sin: my idol.  What am I fondling in my heart as more precious than Christ?  What is my self-worth and sense of wellbeing wrapped around?  
Feeling competent and perfect.  
As soon as that is threatened, I explode.  (That’s how I know it’s my idol.)
Yuck.  Ugh.  Ugly.  I hate this in myself.  

And immediately, almost before I ask, the Holy Spirit gives me a name for this year:
The Year of Letting Go.  
The year of letting go of expectations on myself, 
my husband, 
my teammates, 
my environment - 
but especially myself.

Ann writes of letting go,
“All these years, these angers, these hardenings, this desire to control, I had thought I had to snap the hand closed to shield joy’s fragile flame from the blasts.  In a storm of struggles, I had tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight to as to protect self and happiness.  But palms curled into protective fists fill with darkness.  I feel that sharply, even in this...and this realization in all its full emptiness: My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy. 
Flames need oxygen to light. 
Flames need a bit of wind. 
The theology’s putting on skin.
….There it is, the secret of joy’s flame: Humbly let go.  Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control...let go of my own way, let go of my own fears.  Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire.  Leave the hand open and be.  Be at peace.  Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper surprised thanks.”

But how?  My logic starts churning: How do I let go of expectations and high standards, and still fulfill my responsibilities and set good goals to reach for?  How do I move forward in my life, marriage, or mothering by letting go of what I want and need, and not striving after it?
How will I still find the joy of accomplishing, of finishing, of reaching for something and attaining it?

I still don't know the answers to the how questions, 
but as I try this new year on for size, 
this “Year of Letting Go," 
in my tentative open palm, joy’s flame flickers.  

* * * 

Does any of this resonate with you?  
How would you answer the How questions?

Leave a comment with your answer… let’s journey together!

Monday, January 16, 2012

really SEEING grace {Remembering December: Part 2)

I breathe slow.  
I flip pages of white, lists scrawled in blue.  My counting to 1000 the last month of the year.  Numbers jump off the page, memories of grace...

197. That God protected Ben’s skull (he fell off our bed backwards and hit the radiator)
198. Good doctor advice
202. Ben sleeping through the night despite his cut head
203. A working hand and a pen to write down gifts
206. A doctor only a phone call away

208. A new furnace being installed!
209. Running water
210. A working washing machine
211. Electricity to run the washer
212. Load of bloody clothes (Ben’s) getting cleaned
213. Righteousness as filthy rags, the blood of Jesus that cleanses from sin 

283. Daddy playing with the boys at lunchtime instead of doing the furnace!
284. A diesel furnace, installed and working!

301. The Rilke quote on my kitchen desk
302. The image of a tapestry of my life
303. The Holy Spirit's patterning - much more beautiful and balanced than mine could ever be 

367. The chance to study the Bible in this language
368. My house helper
369. A new, fresh week unrolling
370. Wearing my grandmother’s sweater, who’s with Jesus right now

407. A trip to the bazar alone
408. Riding home with a cow’s head in the taxi trunk!

417. A prolonged Russian lesson
418. A friend who won’t let me quit and who’s adorable while doing it!
419. Naptime, finally!

421. And all at once, 

with the releasing of threads and picking them up again one at a time, as directed
with the holding of everything loosely 
and the delicious expectation of every day beginning differently 
and containing different things, ordered by the Pattern-Maker
I am suddenly and ridiculously happy

Is this the secret of being content in all things? 

And is contentment the wellspring of joy?

434. Grace and more grace
435. Losing my temper 4 times in half an hour - thankful for grace and my kids showing it to me
436. Stability restored

455. A stage to sing on
456. Tired souls to sing to
457. Christmas carols and the truth of them

458. Finding chicken breast sold in our town!
486. IBProfin
487. Warm soft wool sweaters
488. A good nap
489. A neck warmer
490. Hot tea
491. Chicken soup for dinner

545. A fifteen-minute walk all by myself
546. A cluster of red berries
547. Snowy lanes
551. Everything encrusted with crystal
552. Sparkling grape vine tendrils at eye level
553. The gift of new awareness

573. A long sleep-in!
574. Ready-made breakfast!
575. A gracious husband!

While I wrote my December gifts, climbing doggedly towards joy, each new habit-forming nail pounded hard.  Dull.  Mundane.  
But looking back, the joy comes steady.  Looking back, I can see grace.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

all IS grace {Remembering December: Part 1}

I crossed the finish line on New Year’s Eve, wrote down my one thousandth gift from the last 31 days of the year.  {And for every gift-moment I numbered, so many more slid by unsung; God is truly gracious and generous.}
But the counting-challenge was a fight.  Like pounding new nails on top of old ones, making a new habit is hard work.  And the joy trickled in slowly for me, if it came at all.  I struggled to keep it a real-time, real-connection-with-Jesus exercise, not just one more task to finish each day, filling up the numbers to 1000.  Where is the praise, the glory, the joy? I kept thinking.  In writing gifts, shouldn’t the very act of moving my pen across the page uplift me to the Giver?  
I am so sinful.  Painfully, acutely aware of my own imperfection pressing down on me, bursting out of me.  Counting gifts was like struggling to breathe heavy, gasping from under the weight.  
But - at least I’m breathing.  At least my gratitude-lungs drew breath after breath, all day, every day of December, and at least I tried to remember to pound a gratitude nail instead of a critical, wounding word.  And now I have my December 2011 preserved in long white pages of lists, the positive recorded, the negative forgotten, or transformed into praise.  
I flip pages and remember…

5. Starting our Advent Calendar: little voices repeating the story.

6. Hot eggs for breakfast
7. A faithful husband faithfully tending our old furnace.
8. The promise of a new furnace!

14. Dishes to wash
15. Time to pray and worship

22. American deoderant

35. Kids coming to a birthday party!
47. Kids too full from potato salad to eat any pizza!
49. The loving care of a mother who came over just to make sure I gave her son
hot drinks - nothing cold.
65. William turning FOUR!

81. Day 3 on our Advent Calendar: Bethlehem, a town like this one
82. The fresh whiteness and Christmassy-ness of new fallen snow
83. Clipping greenery for an Advent wreath

84. Delivering birthday goody bags to happy kids
85. How easy it is to make kids here happy...because they don’t have much.

86. Grace - for lost tempers, perfectionism, self-criticism
96. Boys collecting potatoes on the veranda
97. The deep sparkling laughter on Will’s face when he really gets tickled
98. Michael Buble’s Christmas album
100. A lazy night by the fire with crocheting and Discovery Channel

116. God’s Word staying powerful regardless of who’s listening or not

127. These pages, and how they ground me firmly in God’s love and presence.
128. How my pen can coax my heart and spirit into synch with the Spirit129. Pen & hand, ink & blood, thanks & heart

151. Handel’s Messiah making the house majestic and holy
152. Being invited to a party
153. An invitation to do a whole concert!
154. Feeling included, wanted, appreciated, valued, loved!

157. Mickey Mouse’s “mousekitools” as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit: when you’re in need, just call, and choose the tool you need from the ever-ready, ever-wise supply!

158. Seeing my wonderful friend V, even just for 15 minutes
159. Bumping into my friend Mercy on the street, big smiles
160. Having real friends in this place

Now, having crossed the threshold of a new year, I’m finding it coming easier.  Without the pressure (self-imposed) of racing to 1000, continuing on into a second millennium of gifts with no time crunch, the joy is starting to come steady

I breathe slow, and remember: all is grace.